Okay, so strictly speaking, Japan's wartime aim was control of the Pacific and not world domination.

However, if by some freak accident they had ended up inheriting the human race, things may not have been that bad.

Here's why:



Now you see it, now you dont: Shinkansen (Bullet Train)

Now you see it, now you dont Shinkansen (Bullet Train)

Britons still remember May 10th, 1934. This was the last time a British train arrived at its destination on time. A memorial service is held annually at Euston Station to commemorate the occasion and little children wave small Union Jack flags whilst a brass band plays repeated verses of 'Rule Britannia.'
To say that Japanese trains merely 'run on time' is an affront to the Japanese rail service. Not only could you set your clock by them but Swiss watchmakers have been known to consult Japanese rail employees when creating their finest timepieces.

Hara-kiri is not an uncommon occurrence during Tokyo rush hour and bus drivers would run down their own grandmothers if they stood in the way of a timely bus-stop arrival.

(Not all of this is entirely true of course, but they are scarily punctual.)



All food looks nicer in waxwork form

All food looks nicer in waxwork form

There are two types of people in the world - those who love sushi, and those lazy, burger-eating philistines who can't stand the stuff.

Love it or hate it though, there is no doubting that sushi, made primarily of rice, raw fish and vegetables, is low in saturated fat, high in protein and a good source of important nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids. Whatever they are. Therefore it is no surprise that Japan has one of the highest life expectancies in the world.

The bottom line is: eat raw fish and you'll live well into your 90s - deep fry your fish and eat it with chips and you'll probably drop dead long before you receive your free bus pass.

Manga / Anime


Comic books on display at the Manga Museum in Kyoto

Comic books on display at the Manga Museum in Kyoto

In simple terms manga are Japanese comics, and anime is animation such as movies.

Most Westerners dismiss these as being exclusively the domain of children or the type of people who attend Star Trek conventions. In Japan, however, they are loved by persons of all ages and are an integral part of the culture - and with good reason.

Not only are they an impressive art form combining illustration and literature, but many of the storylines are out of this world. Put it this way - if Walt Disney had been a manga artist, Snow White would have screwed the dwarves before gouging their hearts out in an orgy of sexual violence. Enough said.



Businessmen in Sapporo, Island of Hokkaido

Businessmen in Sapporo, Island of Hokkaido

We've all taken our seats in trains or aeroplanes to find suspiciously sticky trays, conspicuously concealed sweet wrappers and the brownest apple core in all eternity hidden between the pages of a free 'magazine.' This would not happen in Japan.

Watching the stewards turn over the Shinkansen (bullet train) between journeys was truly an impressive sight.

Their disinfectant smelt like cat's urine and I ended up selling one of my kidneys to subsidize the train fare, but boy was my seat squeaky clean.

Japanese Toilets


Use during buttocks cleansing

Use during buttocks cleansing

A trip to Japan will certainly make you re-evaluate your views on the common WC.
Confusingly termed 'Western-style' toilets contain features such as heated toilet seats (for those cold winter mornings), a built-in bidet, and a nozzle which delivers a satisfying jet of lukewarm water directly on your anus. That may not sound that enjoyable but trust me, when it comes to basic pleasures, it's at least twice as good as sex and knocks the living daylights out of chocolate.

And that's not all.

Deluxe toilets contain features like automatic toilet lids with proximity sensors and some even play tunes that are scientifically proven to relax the sphincter muscle. I don't know about you, but I would have loved to have been in the lab when they tested that one out.



Tokyo rules. That is all.

Tokyo rules. That is all.

Where else in the world would almost a million humans walk over a single pedestrian crossing in one day?
What sort of a place would list 'dressing up as Elvis and hanging around in parks' amongst its favourite Sunday afternoon pastimes?

Ice-cream ramen anyone?

Tokyo has more inhabitants in its Metropolitan area than there are in the entire nations of Portugal or Greece. Although it can seem a little weird to the uninitiated, it's got to be up there amongst the greatest cities on this planet. Wouldn't it be great if it was the capital of the world?

Bent? Boxes


B - E - N - T - O and Bento was its name-o

B - E - N - T - O and Bento was its name-o

Bent?s are traditional Japanese boxed meals usually consisting of rice or noodles with either fish or meat and a selection of vegetables.
The Japanese work ethic would probably put the rest of the world (except the Germans) to shame, but when it comes to their half-hour lunch break there is certainly no messing around. There's none of that pre-packed sandwich nonsense - they want proper food, and for about two hours a day every major city in Japan loses itself in a frenzy of Bento-imposed madness.

I'm sure no-one has a clue what half the stuff in these little boxes actually is (or at least I didn't), but it's all good anyway.



Stone Figures in Shinto shrine, Tokyo

Stone Figures in Shinto shrine, Tokyo

Before visiting Japan, I assumed Shint? was some sort of weird Japanese board game - like an Oriental version of Hungry Hippos, but somehow involving rice.
I was wrong.

It's actually Japan's primary religion and adhered to by a hardly insignificant 120 million Japanese. Which is pretty much all of them. I don't know much about the actual religion although I do know there's a fair amount of impurities being cleansed and probably something in there about tardiness, too.

There are loads of cool statues and some great gardens, but better still, no guilt, no holy wars, and no ritual killings. Moreover, with no regular services, you can observe whenever you want. Where do I sign up?



Hot Springs near Lake Mashuko, Island of Hokkaido (minus the naked people)

Hot Springs near Lake Mashuko, Island of Hokkaido (minus the naked people)

Considering how polite and reserved Japanese people can often be, bearing it all in single-sex public baths seems to be as commonplace in Japan as eating horses is in Verona (i.e. very!). I don't condone either activity myself. As far as I'm concerned I see just about all the sausage I can handle in my weekly trip to the supermarket. (I also know enough about Mr. Ed to know he deserves a far better send-off than ending up braised and browned in an Italian casserole.)
But digressions aside, you have to give some credit to the Japanese for doing the right thing and keeping their nudity fairly private. You won't find any nudist beaches in Japan. If Germans ruled the world, on the other hand, to quote Huck Finn - we'd probably all be: naked, day and night, whenever the mosquitoes would let us.



Jingisukan Barbecue in Sapporo, Island of Hokkaido

Jingisukan Barbecue in Sapporo, Island of Hokkaido

Am I the only one who thinks the world has gone 'tipping' mad? When I visited the States I was told to give the barman a dollar tip every time he handed over a beer, that taxi drivers 10% of the fare, and that waiters expect a 15-20% gratuity. Even the shifty-looking toilet cleaner wants a cut.
Where are we to draw the line? Maybe the burger-flipper at McDonalds deserves a couple of dollars for adding mustard so expertly.

Well, they don't get paid very much, I was told. Surely it's not my problem that their career development didn't work out as they had hoped. (Hasn't he heard of Monster.com?)

It's all immaterial, anyway, as tipping is a major faux pas in Japan. Offering a Japanese person a gratuity is the equivalent of kicking someone in the teeth and then pissing on their living room floor. Happy days!

all photos by Angela Doherty